Premier League Preview: crucial Tyne-Wear derby


Sam Allardyce

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 2 of Sunday’s games in the Premier League. North-east rivals Sunderland and Newcastle have just 1 league win between them so far, and go head-to-head in a match which could hugely influence the fate of both clubs. Jurgen Klopp takes charge of Liverpool at Anfield in a Premier League match for the first time, but his new side could find life tricky against Southampton, who are unbeaten on the road.

Sunderland v Newcastle

This could be one of the biggest games of the Premier League season. The north-east derby always sparks passion from supporters, but with both teams in the thick of the relegation battle, the points at stake are just as important as local pride. This is Sam Allardyce’s first home game in charge of Sunderland, against his old club Newcastle, who beat Norwich City 6-2 last week.

There was an element of fortune about that victory, Newcastle’s first this season, because they looked shaky defensively for the first hour of the match. They conceded two soft goals in the first half, and for the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Magpies were under serious pressure. Steve McClaren was somewhat fortunate that his opposite number, Alex Neil, decided to take off Norwich’s most effective holding midfielder, which meant that Newcastle had plenty of space to attack on the counter.

Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat at West Brom was described as a boring game, but ‘boring’ will do for Sunderland right now. Up until that match, their defending had been appalling with the midfielders failing to show any tactical discipline. The reality of the situation is that unless your team is called Wigan Athletic, you do not get out of Premier League relegation trouble by playing exciting football. It is about getting the basics of defending right as a first priority and that is where Allardyce will focus his attention.

These two teams have won just one league match between them this season, meaning victory will be all-important in terms of confidence. As good as Newcastle were on the break against Norwich last week, it is hard to see Sunderland, or indeed any Allardyce team, the same amount of space in their own half and for that reason this blog will go for a draw.

Liverpool v Southampton

Liverpool drew 0-0 at Tottenham on Saturday and in many ways, they were stronger without the ball than they were with it. We could see features of Jurgen Klopp’s ideology filtering into the players, who pressed cohesively and were compact throughout. However, the challenge for Liverpool is to show Champions League-level quality when they get into the final third.

Effort and commitment are big parts of a successful football team, but it is a given that they also need to show ability with the ball. Liverpool are currently without 2 good strikers in Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings while Christian Benteke is only just returning from injury. With Klopp deeming Divock Origi, a 20-year-old who netted an underwhelming 8 goals for Lille in Ligue 1 last season, as the best striker available, it is unsurprising that the team did not show enough quality in the final third. Not many strikers in the Premier League have better goals-per-game records over the last 2 or 3 years than Sturridge and Benteke, and it is those forwards Klopp needs to get onside (quite literally) early on.

The Saints threw away a 2 goal lead against West Brom last week. They were brilliant in the first half of that match, with Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle particularly impressive, but seemed to lose their focus after the interval.

A big part of that might be the departure of Steven Davis. The midfielder came off on 60 minutes to make way for a more creative player in Jordy Clasie and as a result Southampton were completely overrun. People can criticize Davis for his shortage of goals and limited attacking contribution but he shows the kind of defensive discipline Southampton need in the middle of the park and without him, more forward-minded players would not have as much tactical freedom. The Northern Irishman does not get enough credit for his defensive contribution and this blog would argue that he is one of the Premier League’s most underrated players.

It could take Jurgen Klopp some time to get his key forwards fully fit and firing, and with Southampton impressive on the road, this blog will back them to take a point from their trip to Merseyside.